Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from the University of Bedfordshire

1.The University is grateful for the opportunity to respond to this call for evidence and would like to cite the following areas as those which cause us most concern under the current legislation.

Resource Implications

2.The University’s key concern is the cost of providing information in response to FOI requests. The current limit of 18 hours represents a high resource cost and considerable “opportunity cost” as it diverts staff from engaging in other activities. There is an option to apply costs but in practice this is not always practical because:

(i)it consumes further administrative resources that are not always commensurate with the costs recouped; and

(ii)can result in appeals and complaints that also consume further resources.

3.There is a significant tension between the commitment to transparency and openness that is enshrined in the Act and the government’s stated commitment to reduce the regulatory burden that legislation such as the Act places upon organisations.

Speculative Requests

4.The University receives a large number of requests that are made by journalists and commercial concerns. Enquiries from journalists frequently represent speculative “fishing expeditions” to uncover information that may lead to the formulation of a story rather than the use of FOI to corroborate previously identified lines of enquiry. We increasingly find that many FOI requests are made to solicit information that is already in the public domain and are often the product of lazy journalism or an attempt to offset resource limitations within their own organisations by using University staff as de facto research assistants.

5.Enquiries from commercial concerns frequently seek information that will create commercial advantage and therefore are not always consistent with either providing information to defend an organisation’s reasoning before public opinion or with detecting defective decision-making.

6.The use of e-mail has minimised the cost and ease of submitting FOI requests and this is leading to an increase in the incidence of such requests. This has significant resource implications for the University.

Vexatious Requests

7.The University has also had to deal with a number of individuals who have made FOI requests for vexatious reasons and who wish to deliberately cause nuisance by absorbing University resources and causing inconvenience for University staff. It is difficult to refuse multiple FOI requests from vexatious individuals when the focus of the Act is upon the information requested rather than the person making the request. The information requested may be reasonable when taken in isolation but the volume of requests from a vexatious individual can be significant.

January 2012

Prepared 25th July 2012